For those of you in (or interested in) the film industry:

I was in a meeting this morning in Salt Lake City (good meeting, lovely people) where Utah’s relative lack of incentives, subsides and tax credits for film production was mentioned. This is often a passion-inducing topic: in the industry, the migration of production work from California to Canada is often explained by Canada’s high subsidies (and in California there are wide-reaching campaigns to “keep Hollywood in Hollywood”). Utah’s incentives are comparatively minimal. (I’ve filmed in Utah without a subsidy, and had a great time of it).

I ran across this article that reports on the effectiveness of (or lack thereof) state incentives for film production:

(I don’t know or trust News Review, but they’re echoing figures I’ve read elsewhere, and they happen to state them more concisely.)

Since 2010, the number of states offering incentives has reduced from 43 to 39. And since California began offering incentives in ~2004, its production jobs have reduced from ~123,000 to ~107,000. (I don’t know, but I would guess their incentives aren’t having a negative effect, but were in fact too little too late, compared to what, say, Canada is offering.) But it certainly begins to look like state production incentives aren’t worth it for the states. (An exception might be made for California, I would think, where so many ancillary industries piggy-back on the success of the film industry. More on this below.)

I’ve given speeches all over the world about the sad state of film distribution, and outlined a next-gen methodology for giving filmmakers (particularly indie filmmakers) direct access to their audiences. But first the films have to get made (and distribution speaks to that too, in that it makes or breaks a favorable investment environment where filmmakers can get their projects funded).

I’m not sure what the answer is, but it doesn’t seem to be state incentives. Maybe we’ll just have to wait until, as Jean Cocteau said, film truly becomes an art “when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper”.

In California, there’s an effort to increase the state’s subsidies: AB 1839 which has passed through the state Assembly (unanimously, if you can believe it), and is going to the Senate.

I hesitate to take a position on it, because I don’t see that anyone has done a thorough economic analysis. Everyone seems to be taking shots at straw men and talking in generalities and assumptions.

No, we don’t want to lose California jobs. Yes, we want to keep a historic industry in the US. But what is the strain that AB 1839 puts on other taxpayers? Are its measures enough to reverse (not just slow, but reverse) the flow of production jobs out of the state? Of the 474 productions that applied for and didn’t get subsidies this year, how many of them are making their movies in California anyway vs. going elsewhere? What is the actual state revenue amount projected to be lost if subsidies aren’t increased? Does the state actually care, from a revenue standpoint, where a film is produced if its studio/distributor/production-company is still based-in California and paying California income taxes on receipts? What ancillary industries would benefit/suffer from a passing/rejecting of the measure, and what do those numbers look like? Assuming that subsidies have to be continually increased over time to maintain pressure against competing states/countries, what long-term strains does that put on California?

So many things to consider, and it just doesn’t look like anyone has done the legwork to make a legitimate case. So it looks a lot like a rushed, knee-jerk, “we have to do something” initiative that may well be the wrong solution, or the right basic solution but too little to really solve the problem.

The libertarian in me hates subsidies and selective credits. But I do work in the entertainment industry, I’m a SAG member, and I’d love to keep production jobs in the US. Ultimately any California solution has to be good for the people of California (and not just the filmmakers).